The metal chips that once were a giant AWACS plane glinted Saturday in the charred birch wood where it went down, while relatives of the 24 crew members learned of their loss.

The board of officers that will investigate the crash began arriving at Elmendorf, 10 miles north of Anchorage, as other investigators picked through the rubble for clues to Friday's crash.The last two crewmen were identified and all the families were notified Friday and Saturday, Air Force spokeswoman Kathy Fawcett said. The crew's hometowns have not yet been released.

The Air Force set up a telephone number staffed by chaplains and other counselors for relatives in need of comfort.

It was the first crash of an Airborne Warning and Control System plane since the Air Force began using them in 1977. Brig. Gen. Hugh Cameron, who saw the plane go down, said he didn't expect the Air Force to ground its 33 remaining AWACS.

The remains of a dozen Canada geese were found at the end of the runway, and a source who spoke on condition of anonymity said birds sucked into an engine may have crippled the plane. The Air Force would not speculate on a cause.

"The official line is that the cause of the crash is under investigation, and there's no speculation," Fawcett said.

The E-3B AWACS plane, a $180 million modified Boeing 707 laden with radar and other electronic surveillance gear, set out just after daybreak Friday on a training mission with 22 Americans and two Canadians aboard.

As the plane roared down the runway, one of its engines caught fire. Though it managed to get off the ground, it could not get enough power and plunged to the ground two miles from the runway.

The plane, loaded to capacity with 125,000 pounds of fuel, ripped a black scar 300 yards long and 150 yards wide through the woods. Rescuers had to bulldoze a path to the site marked by a plume of smoke visible 30 miles away.